We were psyched to get invited to have a meal at Aria Cucina Italiana the other week. The original Aria is a popular restaurant at Boracay, and we wondered how different the experience would be to eat their food in an urban setting.
The Metro Manila branch of Aria is at Bonifacio High Street Central. It’s a Monday night and it’s bustling outside, but inside Aria is calm and relaxing. The table beside ours holds a party of around eight, and they’re celebrating a little girl’s birthday. We hardly noticed them till much later, when we took the time to examine the interiors, because they weren’t noisy at all, and in fact looked too engrossed in their pizza.
We started off with some salad, the house specialty Insalata di Cocomero, Rucola e Pinoli. The fresh watermelon gave it a nice summery touch, and it had three of my favorite things: arugula, feta cheese and pine nuts. All right, I used to have no strong opinion on pine nuts, but after having it in two dishes that night (more on that later) I have decided I should have more food with pine nuts in it. The balsamic vinaigrette dressing kept everything light and fresh.
The ubiquitous appetizer fried calamari is something you can get just about anywhere, but Aria’s Fritto di Calamari con Maionese elle Erbe was the most un-greasy calamari I’d ever had. The herbed mayonnaise dip was wonderful.
I was lucky and they had just launched their new cocktails, so I got to try the Tropical Sangria. I recommend it if you want to sip something yummy with a heavy meal, as it was made with white wine instead of red. The flavor was light, but can hold its own against both rich and subtle-tasting dishes. My friend Alvin had the Campari, a blend of Citrus Vodka, Cointreau, and Campari, topped with cranberry juice. It was a great mix of flavors, but by no means a heady drink. We highly recommend it for lightweight drinkers who can nevertheless appreciate a good cocktail.
Normally when trying out a restaurant’s pizza for the first time, I go for the margherita if they have it. However, I decided to let them surprise us with the chef’s recommendation: the Rucola e Pinoli. The thin warm crust was topped with cream sauce, pine nuts, mozzarella cheese, fresh arugula and white truffle cream. Truthfully, I’m kind of a pizza snob. I hate it when pizza is overloaded with ingredients, and I think when the crust is stuffed with meat or whatever, its usually to overcompensate for a crust that should be more useful as something to wipe the soles of your shoes with. So serve me a thin crust pizza with a light sprinkling of greens and nuts, the scent of truffles wafting at me, and I’m a happy camper. Trust me, one bite of this and you’ll wonder why you ever thought you needed meat on your pizza. (We only had room to eat half the pie, so I took the rest home. I experimented by having it five days later, and it turns out the reheated Rucola e Pinoli was still amazing.)
(More: salmon, pasta, and the most amazing dessert ever.)